DRM in a couch cushion

For my fine ferreted friend Ed who was wondering what, exactly, is DRM – I figured a quick explanation might be in order.

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, but it may as well mean Don’t Read Me ! It’s a method of encryption that prevents a file from being user friendly, and assumes everyone in the three universes are criminals, hell-bent on breaking the law and stealing money right outta your pockets.

And I’m not really exaggerating, honest.

A file protected by DRM can’t be opened by other applications, shared with people freely and openly, or altered in any way, shape or form. It was created for the paranoid who believe that the internet was created for porn, the world is flat, the moon is made of cheese and everyone is a thief.

Lemme give an example:

You bought a book (let’s say my latest In The Time Of Dying) it’s big and thick and has a lovely cover (hey, it’s my blog) and you’re all excited about sitting down on the couch with a hot buttered rum, propping your feet on the coffee table and cracking that sucker open.

Only you get halfway in to Chapter 2 and the kids come running into the room and turn on the TV. They’ve brought a big bowl of popcorn and just slipped in the DVD of Transformers 2, in surround. Well you’ve been drinking hot buttered rum, which frankly would make anyone a little queasy around popcorn and kids, and Transformers 2 is so loud you can’t hear yourself think.

So you get up, gather your mug of rum and your copy of In The Time Of Dying, and head out to the other room. You get comfy in the recliner, take a sip of rum and . . . can’t open the book!

Try as you might, you can’t pry the cover open. It’s just a paperback! You haven’t had that much to drink! What’s going on? You shake it, you flip it back and forth, you try again, but it won’t open!

Then you notice a little tiny print warning on the back: “This copy for Couch Reading Only.”

You’ve purchased a book that you can ONLY read on the couch, in the family room. When your wife walks by, you hand the book to her and ask if she can open it, and she can’t. Then she notices the warning – this book can only be read on the couch. She doesn’t want to go near the family room and the Transformers 2 noise, so she carries your book to the living room and sits on the pretty couch you barely use, but she can’t open the book!

WTF? She’s on a couch! Why can’t she open the book? It says right there “For couch reading only” But then she has a closer look.

Apparently that copy of In The Time Of Dying (stop it with the plugs already!) is only for reading on the couch IN THE FAMILY ROOM.

Frustrated, you grab the book and storm back to the family room, ignoring the din that is Transformers 2 on the surround, sit down on the couch, and damn if that book doesn’t just flop right open to your spot in the middle of chapter 2! Now you’re so frustrated, your blood pressure went up and it’s clouding your vision just a tad. You don’t really want to go find your glasses, so you bring the book closer to your face to make the text larger and BAM! It pushes itself further back.

Seems you’re not allowed to increase the size of the text. And don’t even think about turning on that reading light! You didn’t purchase a lighting option!

Well that’s a right pisser, ain’t it?

If you’d downloaded a copy of In The Time Of Dying from Smashwords, you’d have a DRM-Free copy, that allows you to read the book on your laptop on the couch, or from your Kindle at the kitchen table, or on the toilet using your PDA. You could even read it on the bus from your smartphone.

AND – if you were to find it so entertaining that you simply had to share, and really felt like screwing the author out of her $1.40, you could email that book to your friend, who doesn’t have a Kindle or a PDA or even a smartphone, but he could read it on his Sony eReader or his desktop computer.

(or you could buy a hard copy and read it in the tub, on a plane, in the kitchen, in bed, in the car, on your easy chair, at your desk, in the waiting room . . . )

Many people believe DRM is the savior of the universe, and will bring an end to illegal file sharing. It prevents Joe from buying a book, reading it, then loaning it to Kim, Karen, Frank and Earl. It also prevents Joe from taking his Kindle eBook and reading it on his laptop. Or taking his PDA-copy and sending it to his crackberry.

The rest of us see DRM as the most user un-friendly way to alienate your reading public.

Everyone has their own opinion, and should. But for me, it was very important to find a way to offer up my work in a DRM-Free environment. Does it mean sometimes people who didn’t pay for my book will get copies?


Do small children steal candy? Yes.

Are all children candy thieves?

Obviously not. And having previously stated that I’m not writing for money, I can reiterate here that it means more to me to have Readers than Buyers. I wouldn’t post my work for free on the internet if writing for money was my only goal. I WANT Joe to buy a copy of the eBook In The Time Of Dying, fall in love with it, and loan it to Kim, who sends it to Karen, who emails it to Frank who has to share it with Earl. Because out of those four who’ve just read it without paying me, maybe one of them will love it so much they’ll buy a hard copy for themselves, or as a gift to someone else.

Of those four who’ve just read it for free, maybe three of them will come back and read my other work. Maybe two of them will follow me, and read new work as it’s published.

And maybe they’ll tell two friends, who tell two friends . . .

The music industry wasn’t prepared for the internet, and the resulting implosion created a thing we call Digital Rights Management.

In the publishing industry, it might as well stand for Don’t Read Me

5 thoughts on “DRM in a couch cushion

  1. Cool… someone finally got the right translation for the DRM acronym. “Don’t Read Me”
    Haha… and I loved your description of a reader trying to read a DRM book. Spot on.

  2. The couch cushion metaphor just made me happy when I heard it. I love the idea of moving to the bed and going “Ah crap, I can only read this book on the sofa.”

    “Here’s my copy,” says my wife, “but you have to be on the floor, so you could lie NEXT to the bed maybe.”

    “no, it’s no good,” says me, “Where’s my Bath-Licensed copy? I’ll go do that to unwind.”

    “They patched that copy,” she says, “It’s shower-and-toilet only.”


    DRM would make a great comedic sitcom. 🙂

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